Henry Louis Gates Jr. jailed for disorderly conduct in Cambridge, MA

July 21st, 2009

UPDATE 12:36 PM 7/21/09 — According to the Associated Press, Cambridge prosecutors have dropped the disorderly conduct charge against Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Noted Harvard professor and frequent THIRTEEN host and editor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. was arrested by Cambridge, Massachusetts police at his home on Thursday, July 16 on charges of disorderly conduct. According to the police report, a woman called police to the house after seeing a man “wedging his shoulder in the front door [of Gates' house] as to pry the door open.” Gates had just returned from filming in China for the upcoming THIRTEEN / PBS documentary, “Faces of America.” Gates allegedly confronted the officers at the scene, accusing them of racism and “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to the police report. Professor Gates was subsequently arrested, held at Cambridge police headquarters and released four hours later on his own recognizance. Neither Gates nor the Cambridge police have commented on the incident at this time.

Gates has been the host and editor for numerous productions at THIRTEEN, including African American Lives, African American Lives 2 and Looking for Lincoln.

Gates’ lawyer and Harvard colleague Charles Ogletree has released a statement on behalf of his client:

This brief statement is being submitted on behalf of my client, friend, and colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a statement concerning the arrest of Professor Gates. On July 16, 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of Harvard University, was headed from Logan airport to his home [in] Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled “Faces of America.” Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.

Professor Gates was taken to the Cambridge Police Station where he remained for approximately 4 hours before being released that evening. Professor Gates’ counsel has been cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorneys Office, and the City of Cambridge, and is hopeful that this matter will be resolved promptly. Professor Gates will not be making any other statements concerning this matter at this time.

Sources: The Boston Herald, The Boston Globe, The Harvard Crimson, The Root